Spend Less: 5 “Bogus Beliefs” About Giving Gifts

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QUICK SUMMARY: Let’s be brutally honest, “spend less” is a mantra many of us need to chant, or better live by, 365 days a year! This may not be a Christmas problem. The season my accentuate it or just bring it out of hiding for all to see, but it is not a once a year battle. That said, budgeting ideas that can be used for the holiday season can be applied just as easily and effectively in July, when you are headed out for vacation. So, the year-end holiday season is a good time to think about our spending habits in preparation for the new year.

The big idea here is that the real problem may be lodged much deeper than our wallets. Deeper even than the (predictable) challenge to be on the lookout for greed, excess, waste, and “the love of money” that is “the root of all evil.” Or even than the slightly more insightful motive (but just as predictable) of giving presents, plural and/or pricy, to prove our love (or other self-serving motives). I am not vilifying those sins or even downplaying them, just suggesting that those go-to culprits are the easiest to accuse. But they are not the only ones by a long shot. Indeed, how we spend is a good indicator of the state of our heart. However, there can be numerous reasons why we have little or sporadic control over out-of-control spending. The indication does not always point to runaway consumerism, rampant debt, or a heart that has an appetite for more. Well, they do, but those all may be symptoms only. Listen carefully if you have struggled to no avail against avarice, gluttony, insatiable self-indulgence, giving to get, and the like. Maybe you took the easier route to discover the root of the problem? Maybe you have blamed the obvious but the obvious is still on the surface… and conceals a deeper issue.

In this article I suggest five bogus beliefs about gift giving:
Bogus Belief #1:
Gifts Prove Love – They may be given in love but prove nothing.
Bogus Belief #2: Gifts Neutralize Absence – Nothing makes up for not being there, nothing.
Bogus Belief #3: Gifts Mitigate Abuse – Nothing makes up for mistreatment, nothing.
Bogus Belief #4: Manipulative Gifting is Harmless – It teaches the same manipulative tactics to others.
Bogus Belief #5: Self-Medicating Gifting is Harmless – It is just a numbing addiction.

Want more detail? Keep reading!

Written By Kerry Krissel

GO DEEPER: (Read “QUICK SUMMARY” before continuing.) Before diving in we need to say that flat out greed could be an issue needing attention. An insatiable appetite for more may be just the right place to begin. But greed for the sake of greed alone, because you are never satisfied with what you have, is rare. That unquenchable appetite, the black hole that never feels full, the hording (random or specific) and accumulation, are there for a reason. Why can we never get enough? What is it that aches until satisfied? Why is the appetite so strong and quick to resurface?

All good questions… that I will not even try to answer! Those questions deserve and demand a personal touch that cannot be offered in a blog. If you seek answers that fit you personally—that are not generic answers that still need interpretation and leave room for doubts—then you are going to need to get some coaching. Follow THIS link to the form on Two Rivers Counseling Centers website to request an appointment.

What we can do is think through a few (more complex) explanations, that go beyond the obvious and surface reasons, why people give gifts in excess, with excessive expense, in excessive ways that distracts from the true reason for the season,

Here are 5 bogus beliefs about gift giving:

Bogus Belief #1: Gifts Prove Love
I mentioned this in the “QUICK SUMMARY” but we should go back to it. It does require a little more introspection to see and courage to admit. If gifts mean love, more gifts mean more love. If we believe that giving a gift proves we love someone, and more or bigger gifts mean more and bigger love… Well, you can see the problem it creates. Christmas can be difficult to get under control for those whose love language is gift getting. Especially if they project that onto others, few or many. It is common but relationally and emotionally immature to think that the way we receive love is the same for everyone. What says “you are valued and wanted” to us will not to everyone else. This kind of self-referenced relating puts a high premium on the number, price, and thoughtfulness of the gifts received, and then an equal premium on those they give. Link these two—gifts with trying to prove our love—and the season is already unmanageable long before it comes around again. Greed is not the problem, a warped belief about how to demonstrate our love is. Excess is not the real problem either. The core issue is programming that says unless we shower the people we love with gifts, we do not really love them. See my point. It looks like greed, or some other scapegoat, but the real source reaches back into family, memory, nostalgia, expectation, anticipation, dysfunction, and deception… Giving a gift certainly can be, and usually should be, an act of love. But it proves nothing. We all know that particularly at Christmas, gifts are all too often given out of obligation!

Christmas can be difficult to get under control for those whose love language is gift getting. Especially if they project that onto others.

Bogus Belief #2: Gifts Neutralize Absence
This is classic. A little easier to diagnose. And total humbug. “It is not the quantity that counts, but the quality.” When it comes to relationships, that is a load of rubbish! “No, I wasn’t there for the big game, but when I did show up, I brought a pony!” Nothing can make up for not being there because you cannot turn back time and swap absence for presence. Those moments are lost. Now, we can apologize, and then act differently in the future, and give the one we abandoned the chance to heal. But healing and the power of Jesus Christ is the only neutralizer. Pretending no apology is necessary, that we have done no wrong and created no wound, and then give gifts like we have, neutralizes nothing. It is just more absence. Nothing makes up for not being there, nothing. The only thing to do is help them heal. But you cannot buy healing for another and give it to them. Actually, it is free (monetarily speaking) meaning we all can afford it! You admit your wrong, seek forgiveness, and move forward from there. Gifts simply do not have the power to offset your absence.

Gift giving does nothing to neutralize our absence. It is all about easing our own distressed conscience.

Gift giving is the easy (and wrong) way out. We buy big expensive gifts to stave off our guilt over always being somewhere else. Do you see how this is all about you? Gift giving does nothing to neutralize our absence. It is all about easing our own distressed conscience. Yet some literally believe it makes everything all better… or maybe they just want it to. They feel better for a short time, so we are happy to project that onto the other. We support it by minimizing our action, their impact, and by rationalizing our choices. “I am seldom around because I work hard so that you can have what you need, so that you can have nice things, so you do not have to go without like I did, so you can have a comfortable life…” Justification abounds. Wounding from our own story is usually just as plentiful. “I didn’t hear you complain when I bought you ________” Which is usually answered with (maybe unspoken but still there), “But I didn’t want or ask for the _________, I want you.” Try giving the gift of showing up this year. Not just in body but still distracted and effectively absent, but face-to-face “present.”

Bogus Belief #3: Gifts MitigateAbuse
Another version of the previous point. Absence creates a wound much deeper than we imagine but abuse obviously ramps up the damage. Clearly, we have to take gift giving to the next level as well. I mean, if there is more to compensate for, in their heart and our conscience, the gift giving has to match it, right? Wrong. Do I need to say that nothing makes the damage of abuse go away? It can be healed but not erased.

“It is not the quality that counts, but the quantity.” I lived on the receiving end of this one. The gifts were sometimes junky and cheap, but the tree was surrounded with a sea of presents on Christmas morning. So many gifts. And you can be sure there was the same number for everyone! Would not want anyone to get the idea they were loved less (see #1). We intentionally did not make sure our kids got the same number and we told them as much. We wanted to teach them to be happy for others when they are blessed, that gifts are not an accurate measure of love, that the thought is as important, be content with what they have, and that life is just not fair, do not expect it to be. Every year we would spend a little more on one and we seldom spent the same on them all.

I can tell you from personal experience that the gifts did not make up for the abuse. Nothing was “mitigated.” Christmas morning was a huge event, and I have fond memories… But nothing in this world could diminish the wounds or memories. I do not remember Christmas morning having anything to do with relationships. If you carry a load of guilt for how you treated people in your life, go back to number two and do what is suggested there. Spend that money on airfare, motels and food for visits, or even therapy for yourself or the one you wounded. Stop avoiding the issue by trying to buy your freedom from shame, or purchase whatever it is you feel you need or want from them. Of all the seasons on the calendar, of all the holidays we celebrate, this one above all is not about self-preservation or denying the real truth. Jesus’ example is one of self-sacrifice in the face of the glaring and desperate truth that we need a Savior from our sin. Give yourself the gift of confession and repentance. Receive his gift of forgiveness and new life. Then give that gift to those you have wronged and see what happens. No guarantees, but it has a better chance of being the gift others need and want than that pony you give from guilt and denial ever does!

Jesus’ example is one of self-sacrifice in the face of the glaring and desperate truth that we need a Savior from our sin.

Two more loosely related “bogus beliefs” that I will gift to you!

Bogus Belief #4: Manipulative Gifting is Harmless
“If you are a good little boy/girl Santa will make sure you have a great Christmas!” This is give-to-get reasoning again. Give obedience and compliance and you will get… presents! Really, presents? Why not promise God’s approval and blessing, a long life as God’s chosen and protected (Exodus 20:12), or learning to respect authority? I suppose none of that has much real or immediate impact on a 4-year-old. That does not mean it should not be said or held out as a good reason for honoring your parents. We set them up to expect a reward for simply doing what they were asked.

Parents are constantly bargaining with their kids like they are making a sale that their life and livelihood depends on. Like the kid is the one with all the control and authority and if you play it right, they will relinquish it to you just long enough to get through the store without them embarrassing you. “Santa will bring coal if you don’t get those shoes on so we can leave.” Really? If they believe you, which obviously they should not, you have taught them to believe a lie! Santa will not bring them coal and you will surely buy them presents.

Promises & Parenting
We did the best to make Christmas as great as we could, regardless of how they behaved the last year… or week. In this case, gifts did speak to unconditional love. In almost all cases it is a form of abuse to take toys away from kids (or their bed, food, love or anything else they need for healthy development) as punishment. Fear and manipulation may be motivational, but at what cost? There are good forms of motivation and there are destructive ones. Just because it works is no reason to use it. “If you are a good little kiddo while mommy gets the groceries, I’ll buy you something before we leave.” When a child has been conditioned that way there is no way they will not want that candy at the register regardless of how they performed in the store.” You have lost that battle from the get-go. They know you have lied and can be manipulated. You get to the register and say “no, you behaved like a very naughty little child in the store today. And then it starts. Oh, the fuss and fit and noise and tantrum you will get! Then everyone turns and looks at you, and you feel even the stares you cannot see. What do you do? If you are like most you cave in! In the end you have rewarded their disobedience and manipulation! Where did they learn the manipulation? You know the answer.

There are good forms of motivation and there are destructive ones. Just because it works is no reason to use it.

Using the promise of a gift as a way to control people in your life is itself abusive. You know when your correction is loving and constructive by whether or not you expect them to comply simply because it is a God-given authority making a demand on them, or if you just assume they will disobey, skip right over justified and necessary parenting, and go straight to manipulative control and bargaining with gifts to secure their cooperation. And that can be applied to other relationships as well. I remember leaving a cart full of groceries sitting to take a child having a tantrum home instead of giving in to their demands. We wasted all that time getting groceries and still have nothing to eat for dinner. But I refused to manipulate and use the fear of withholding to get them to do as I said. I know you might not agree but I call that a win. It is something to think about. Do you use lies and fear (“I’m going to leave you right here in the store if you do not get yourself moving.”) to discipline and teach them that it is ok to do the same, or are you good to your promises and avoid buying their submission?

We veered ever so slightly away from Christmas so let’s swing back that way with…

Bogus Belief #5: Self-Medicating Gifting is Harmless
Can you say, “retail therapy?” Christmas may just be a great excuse to indulge in illegitimate “therapy” for your wounded and hurting soul. The term should be used with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is sarcasm at its best. Even if there is a momentary high, when the bills show up in January your low will be lower that your December high. The gift may be intended for another, but the purchase was intended to sooth your own soul. There is nothing harmless about it, but a better “h” word to use may be “hopeless.” If nothing else, it will lead to debt and leave you destitute and trapped under the financial burden. The kicker is that you need more “therapy” sessions because the pain you treat remains one of your closest frienemies.

Retail therapy is shopping designed to improve the buyer’s mood or disposition, to make them feel happier, as an outlet for frustration, and to relieve stress. Think of it like you would any addiction. Instead of “comfort food,” the purchase is a “comfort buy.” Self-medication alone without real “therapy,” or counseling help that is getting under the surface to discover the real issue/disease, is simply a diversionary or numbing addiction. It probably will cost a lot more than therapy would because again, the relief it gives is temporary. You are going to need another shot of “therapy.” Add another name to the list, or increase what you are spending on each person, because the low you are chasing away will circle around and head straight back! We have a term for doctors who only treats symptoms but do no tests to determine the source that is producing the symptoms. “Quacks!” Using “retail therapy” at Christmas, or using Christmas as a cover for it, both treat the signs while burying the sickness… and casts grave doubts on your treatment! Yep, I do believe I just called you a “quack!”

5 Bogus Beliefs or 4?
Labeling this (or any of these five bogus beliefs) with a thoughtless and surface label like greed or failure to remember the “reason for the season” could hide something that you desperately need to see. This fifth false belief may be combined with any of the previous four. It may just be a part of and not really separate from them. The ultimate self-centered motivation behind them. Christmas and giving gifts are out of hand because your interior self-maintenance includes very little reality and a whole bunch of hiding! A clever and maybe unconscious avoidance technique for a wounded and hurting heart.

None of these five make the real enemy the usual vices we call into question when thinking about excess at Christmas. They will not respond in any sort of lasting way to the usual correctives that we proffer either. Save a little bit each month for Christmas spending, use a budget, watch the excess, give meaningful and thoughtful gifts, keep Christ center… Those are a means to greater frustration if the heart of the matter is to be found in one of these five (and other not-so-easily-discovered or corrected issue) deeper issues.

Thanks for Nothing!
You may be thinking, “Why did you have to go and do that? You just complicated the heck out of this wonderful time of year!” I suppose I did. Or I gave you the exact gift you needed. Try the logical, surface, obvious preventatives all you want. If your heart is unwell, they will not help you spend less. Why? Because your struggle is not with greed or money or consumerism. The fight you face is something deeper but easier to solve—once discovered—than you may think. The challenge to “spend less” may be more about intentionally moving into personal wellness than actually about spending less. Maybe, just maybe, this Christmas you need to spend more on yourself by way of securing spiritual coaching so you can let the Christ of Christmas into your heart in a new and deeper way then you ever have before. Whether the issue at hand is simple greed or deeper wounding, the answer is not getting or giving more, it is getting or letting God give himself… just like he did on the first Christmas so long ago.

If you feel you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article may have surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around at what we do, or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE.